4.20.2009

Keep paddling

A poignant excerpt from here (with minor copy edits from me because I just can't help myself):

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Thing About a Crossing

It’s like this when you live a story. The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative and you’re caught in the water, the shore is pushing back behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The other shore is inches away and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant shore, looking back to see where you came from. The first part of a story happens fast, and you think the thing is going to be over soon. But it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. It’s as though the thing is teaching you the story is not about the ending but about the story itself, about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. The shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes used to move you but they don’t anymore...The shore you left is just as far and there is no going back, there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch and sink into the sea. Maybe there is another story at the bottom of the sea? Maybe you don’t have to be in this story anymore? Maybe you can quit and not have to paddle in place anymore?

...

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought and they can’t see the distant shore anymore and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their wife, on their husband, they go looking for an easier story.

...

Robert McKee put his coffee cup down and leaned onto the podium. He put his hand on his forehead and wiped his grey hair back. He said you have to go there, you know. You have to take your character to the place where they just can’t take it anymore. He looked at us with a tenderness we hadn’t seen in him before. You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve been out on the ledge. The marriage is over now, the dream is over now, nothing good can come from this. He got louder. Writing a story isn’t about making your peaceful fantasies come true. The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person. He was shouting now. You put your characters through hell. You put them through hell. That’s the only way we change.


3 comments:

lauren said...

That's a great excerpt. It's amazing how we can intellectually understand that there's shore in the distance, but still feel so far from it that we don't believe we'll ever get there.

lauren said...

Yes ma'am I'm back! And would love to talk details in person!!! I shall be in touch via less-public modes :)

Chigurh said...

I didn't know Donald Miller had a new book! (I haven't actually read the post yet, but needed to make that comment.)